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July 31, 2013

What to do when you’re left in the dark

Local experts share tips on how to handle a blackout

By Elizabeth Scussel
C & G Staff Writer

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Residential streets in Berkley and Huntington Woods were severely flooded Sept. 11, 2011, when torrential rains swept through the area. Many residents were left with damaged property after their basements flooded.

You hear a crash of thunder. You see a spark of lightening. Suddenly, there is deafening silence and vivid darkness.

Wicked summer storms can bring all kinds of destruction, including power outages. Taking the necessary precautions can result in saving time and money, but most importantly, avoiding accidents. Experts say being prepared can minimize the impact of severe weather and help families stay safe.

South Lyon resident Debra McIntyre-Dodd, senior public information director for Consumers Energy, said the most important thing to do is have a plan in place.

“Be well-prepared for adverse weather, and always err on the side of safety,” McIntyre-Dodd said. “Some people don’t understand the power of a storm and do not act safely in its aftermath, such as not looking for possible downed wires or other electrical problems before beginning cleanup efforts, or not keeping children and pets away from downed lines and debris where power lines may be hidden. Those who don’t operate generators safely are compromising their safety and possibly of those around them.

“Installed and used correctly, generators are a good alternative to have a power supply during an extended outage,” McIntyre-Dodd said. “First, a licensed electrician should be used to install it. The generator must also be isolated from Consumers Energy’s electric distribution system. Generators should never be used in an enclosed area — such as a garage or basement — because carbon monoxide could develop without adequate ventilation. Also, never try to add fuel to a generator when it is running; turn it off first.”

Consumers Energy recommends charging cellphones and laptops in advance of a storm, and having fresh batteries available for flashlights and weather radios. People should make sure to have at least a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food, prescription medications, and a first-aid kit on-hand.

McIntyre-Dodd also advises people be on top of important information. Consumers Energy recently launched an online outage map that allows anyone to see the location of outages, report an outage and get an estimated time when service will be restored.

With any blackout lasting more than a few hours, one thing that requires much consideration is the contents of the refrigerator.

“Refrigerated food should be safe as long as power is out no more than four hours. Keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible,” said Allison Pruitt, lead clinical dietitian for Allegiance Health and CareLink of Jackson.

She advises discarding any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40 degrees for more than two hours.

“Food items in the refrigerator door often get warm sooner than items in the back. It is recommended that mayonnaise, horseradish and creamy salad dressings be thrown out if the temperature is above 50 degrees for over eight hours,” Pruitt said. “There are not any food items that need to be thrown out immediately. Waiting to see how long it will be before power is restored is the best idea. Ideally, during this time, you would not open the refrigerator door at all. If it stays sealed, your refrigerator can keep food cold for about four hours, and a full freezer about 48 hours, and 24 hours if a freezer is half-full.”

Pruitt recommends packing important items from the refrigerator, such as milk, dairy products, meats, fish, poultry and eggs, in a cooler full of ice if it looks like the power will be out for more than two hours.

“If it looks like the power outage will be prolonged beyond a day or so, prepare another cooler with ice for the items in your freezer,” she said. “Once defrosted, these items are considered to be refrigerated, and the same two-hour rule applies.

“Saving a potentially hazardous food that has been in the temperature danger zone is never worth it. Never taste food to determine its safety. You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe. Remember: When in doubt, throw it out.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Elizabeth Scussel at escussel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1037.